How could Korach and his followers have rebelled against Moshe Rabbeinu (Moses)?
It is so obvious! Moshe Rabbeinu is the representative of the Master of the Universe, who stood alone with Him on Mount Sinai! He took us out of Egypt!
My friends, I wish it were difficult to understand, but in fact it is so easy to make egregious errors of judgment. They say, “Hindsight is 20-20.” In the thick of action, our judgment is frequently flawed or completely turned off. Sometimes, we just do not use our brains!
In Egypt itself, at least eighty percent of the Children of Israel never left with Moshe Rabbeinu! (Rashi to Exodus 13:18 & 10:22) Because they preferred the foreign culture, they perished in the Plague of Darkness!
Today, a similar test exists for us with regard to the Western culture which surrounds us.
In my own life, I can think of countless instances in which I have been seriously wrong on vital issues, fooling myself for long periods – with, in some cases, very serious consequences – and at the same time being sure I was absolutely correct. As always, King David says it perfectly: “Who can discern mistakes? Cleanse me from unperceived faults!” (Psalm 19)
We have to fear error.
Recently, I quoted Rabbi Moshe Heinemann’s insight on the death of Rabbi Akiva’s twenty-four thousand talmidim: “There was a subtle lack of kovod (honor, esteem) for one another which was enough for Hashem to require beginning anew the mission of giving the Torah to the next generation with absolute purity. This is similar to an angle which slants at an eighth of a degree, which is hardly [noticeable at first]. However, after a foot, these lines develop visible differences.” (Halachos of Sefiras Haomer and Shavuos)
I would like also to quote from my own book: “If a Jew deviates by one millimeter from the rules, in the course of time his deviation will become infinite. Once you are headed in a different direction, you just keep going. You tell yourself that it’s normal, and you try not to think about whether it’s true.” (From Central Park to Sinai)
The consequences of even a slight deviation are staggering. Look at how we are still suffering from the actions of the miraglim (spies) and Korach and all the other rebellions and mistakes our ancestors made over the course of history. We have to try to learn from the ancient advice of our Sages: “Consider the cost of a mitzvah against its reward and the reward of a sin against its cost.” (Ethics of the Fathers 2:1)
“Had Reuven known that Hashem would write of him, ‘Reuven heard and he rescued [Yosef] from their hand’ (Genesis 37:21), he would have carried [Yosef] on his shoulders back to his father.” (Ruth Rabbah 5:6)
My friends, we are obligated to act with intelligence. Hashem gave us brains. In addition to our hishtadlus (maximum personal effort), we have to beg, like King David, that Hashem restrain us from “unperceived faults” as well as intentional sins. In the merit of refining our behavior, may He heal all our tzouris and send the Redeemer soon in our days!